What’s Eating Gilbert Grape tells the story of a family of five that live in a small
town of Endora, Iowa. The Grape family consists of Amy, Ellen, Mama, Arnie, and Gilbert.
Amy is the oldest sister that has taken the role of mother for the family. She does all the cooking,
cleaning, and care of Mama. Ellen is the youngest sister who is the typical teenage girl interested
in boys and makeup who bickers constantly with Gilbert resisting his role of provider for the
family. Mama is the overly obese mother. Mama use to be the town’s sweetheart but after
her husband hung himself in their basement she turned to food and hasn’t stop
eating. Mama eats, smokes, and sleeps on the living room couch because she is too big
to walk upstairs to her room. Arnie is Gilbert’s youngest brother who is mentally disabled.
The upcoming big event in the film is Arnie eighteenth birthday party. Gilbert is the sole
provider for the family at the local Lamson’s grocery. He delivers groceries regularly to
Betty Carver who he has been having an affair with for about a year who is married to local
insurance broker. On one of Gilbert deliveries to Betty he leaves Arnie in truck. Arnie disappears
to climb the water tower. A crowd gathers as Gilbert sings him down before he reaches the top.
When Mama finds out about the incident she tells Gilbert he needs to do a better job of watching
Arnie. Gilbert says, “Some days you want him to live….some days you don’t.” This quote
illuminates the hardship of caring for someone with a mental disability. In addition, it shows us
Gilbert’s need of approval and acceptance from his mother as Arnie’s caregiver. During the
duration of the film, Gilbert is a perfect example of Bowen theory of “differentiation of self.”
According to Bowen, differentiation of self is the process of freeing yourself from your family to
find yourself (Bowen). Gilbert’s relationship with Betty shows...